Coronavirus lockdown: Travel agents lock horns with airlines over air ticket refunds

  • Airlines offering credit shells against cancelled bookings which have created a ruckus
  • Distressed travel agents argue that credit shells are not acceptable by their clients
  • Over Rs 8,000 crore are stuck with the airlines in the form of credit shells
  • The government’s intervention on the matter has not yielded results as yet

The worldwide lockdowns due to the coronavirus outbreak and the resultant grounding of international and domestic carriers have opened a Pandora’s box for the travel agents in India. The cash-crunched airlines, as advised by global body IATA (International Air Transport Association), have taken an easy route of converting the cancelled tickets into credit shells. What’s a credit shell? It’s basically a note from the airlines against a cancelled ticket that can be used for future bookings.

The travel agents argue that they have paid the full amount in cash, and the airlines should refund them back in cash.

“We have clients sitting on our heads asking for cash refunds. If we offer them credit shells, they are not sure when and how to utilise them. In Punjab and some South Indian states, some of the clients have complained against our members to the police. We have burnt fingers with Kingfisher Airlines and Jet Airways’ fiascos. We don’t want to suffer again. We don’t want our money to be repatriated outside of the country. The due amount has to be credited as cash into our systems,” says Jyoti Mayal, president, TAAI.

Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) is a travel agents’ body with over 2,700 members, including OTA (online travel aggregators) like MakeMyTrip and Yatra.

According to travel agents, barring a few airlines, all domestic carriers like IndiGo, SpiceJet, Air India along with IATA’s 111 member airlines globally have refused to pay the refunds in cash. As a result, Rs 8,000 crore has stuck due to ongoing disputes with the airlines. Direct bookings from individuals and corporates would be over and above this number, the agents said.

Not just ticket refund amounts, some airlines, particularly low-cost carriers, are not even returning the advance money given by them which is as high as Rs 10 lakh, the travel agents alleged.

Meanwhile, some global carriers like Singapore Airlines and Emirates have started reviewing their refunds processes following the backlash from the agents.

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